It was a solemn day at the Cornwall Manor Retirement Community as a massive European horse chestnut tree by Buckingham Mansion toppled over in a spate of storm activity.

According to an August 4 Facebook post, the tree fell the previous night from the front side of the residential mansion onto the porch, which suffered some damage. None of the residents or their living spaces were hurt or damaged.

The chestnut wasn’t just any old tree: it was one of Pennsylvania’s Champion Trees, a listing of impressive trees in the state maintained by arborist Scott Wade (measurement process detailed here). It was first nominated in 1985 by Gene Odato and last measured in 2009, when it stood almost 65 feet high with a 66-foot spread.

The impressive tree during the winter of 2009, when it measured nearly 65 feet high. (Cornwall Manor)
The tree landed on the porch of Buckingham Mansion, though fortunately nobody was hurt. (Photograph courtesy of community resident Henry Deemer)

According to Paul Weidman, vice president of Plant Operations at the Manor, the tree was likely around 150 years old, about double the age of the retirement community itself, which was established in 1949. Buckingham Mansion itself began as a 19-room house constructed in 1773.

Residents and commentators expressed their condolences for the tree, which had been regularly blooming for decades. Though the stump revealed that the collar and roots were partially rotted at the base, the trunk further up was solid.

A crew from Good’s Tree Service was called in to take care of the tree. The Manor has also asked for a sampling to be taken to better measure the tree’s age. (Cornwall Manor)
The crown and roots were partially rotten towards the bottom. (Deemer)

The European horse chestnut tree, Aesculus hippocastanum, is native to forests in the Balkans, though it has made its way to many parks and communities of North America. The species is currently listed by conservationists as vulnerable.

Trees are a fixture of community life at the manor, according to Public Relations and Volunteer Coordinator Stacia Layser. “We have a Tree Committee comprised of residents that are interested in the history, preservation and repopulating of trees on Cornwall Manor’s campuses,” she wrote in an email exchange with LebTown. The committee also selects an annual Arbor Day planting, and the Manor retains a “tree book” listing each planting and donated tree.

Though the loss of a beloved tree is always difficult, the woodland community is sure to recover as new trees are planted year after year, many in honor of loved ones. Perhaps a new tree planted on the grounds will grow to be just as venerated and majestic as the chestnut of Buckingham Mansion.

The tree in May 2020. (Cornwall Manor)
(Cornwall Manor)

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Josh Groh is a Cornwall native and writer who began reporting for LebTown in 2019. He continued to regularly contribute to LebTown while earning a degree in environmental science at Lebanon Valley College, graduating in 2021. Since then, he has lead conservation crews in Colorado and taken on additional...


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